Big names, big passions

After our look at the stars of cinema and music who live for news of the beautiful game, FIFA.com now turns its spotlight on the politicians and sporting personalities who keep one eye on their respective disciplines and the other on their favourite team.

Formula 1 drivers keep both eyes on the road while racing, of course, but away from the track there are many who indulge a passion for football. Roma fan Giancarlo Fisichella would no doubt have much to discuss with Real Madrid supporter Fernando Alonso, for example, while Brazilian drivers Felipe Massa and Rubens Barrichello could spend hours discussing Paulista football, with the former a Sao Paulo devotee and the latter loyal to the Corinthians cause. Three-time world champion Ayrton Senna was also a huge Timão fan and the club's supporters likewise held him in high esteem, chanting his name with all their heart when it was announced during a match that the Formula 1 legend had passed away.

That occured during the 1994 season, which would later end with Michael Schumacher taking the top prize. Blessed with immense talent like Senna, the German driver also has a deep love of the game and for one club above all - in his case, Cologne. A follower since childhood, Schumi had good reason to pin his hopes on the Billy Goats. "I admired our goalkeeper, Toni Schumacher, like crazy," he recalled.

"I made all my friends think he was my uncle!" Nowadays, the young retiree is a household name in his own right and has found new ways of backing his team, recently donating 900 euros to help with the signing of local idol Lukas Podolski, who will leave Bayern Munich to rejoin his former outfit at the end of the season.

When Guga met Lula
The world of tennis contains more than a few football enthusiasts, too, starting with another German icon, Boris Becker. Like Schumacher, the three-time Wimbledon champion has taken an active stance in supporting his team, Bayern Munich, estimating that he thought "for about three seconds" when Franz Beckenbauer invited him to join the club's board of directors. Spaniard Rafael Nadal, meanwhile, is living proof that football loyalties can run deeper than family links. A proud fan of Real Madrid, he is nonetheless the nephew of Barcelona legend Miguel Angel Nadal. Rising star Andy Murray, meanwhile, very nearly signed for Rangers before devoting himself to tennis, this despite the world No4 being a boyhood Hibernian supporter.

Clay-court specialist Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil can often be seen at the Estadio da Ressacada in his native Florianopolis these days. That is the home of modest Santa Catarina state side Avai, who are celebrating their return to Serie A this season. "Guga supported us all through the year," coach Paulo Silas told FIFA.com after promotion was assured. "He comes at the end of training every week and plays dominoes with the players." Aside from his famously positive attitude, Kuerten also aids the Leão da Ilha (Lion of the Island) financially.

Now retired, the three-time French Open winner is currently working as an advisor to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and the two man will have plenty to debate the next time Avai take on Corinthians. The Brazilian statesman is a committed Timão fan and never misses a chance to signal his devotion. In fact, after receiving a club shirt bearing his name upon becoming an honorary member, Lula had another made up especially for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, which he passed on during a summit between the two men.

Eva and Banfield, Angela and Cottbus
In Argentina, many still remember the friendly footballing rivalry that developed between the one-time presidential couple of Juan and Eva Peron. An ardent member of the Racing faithful, Juan had to come to terms with his wife, originally fond of Estudiantes, becoming a Banfield supporter, and in 1951 their loyalties were put to the test when Banfield and Racing met to settle the title. Level after the regular season, the two clubs had to contest a play-off to determine who would be champions and, despite Evita's backing, El Taladro succumbed to La Academia, much to President Juan's delight.

Half a century later and on the other side of the Atlantic, another powerful woman from the world of politics made her allegiances clear. Germany's Angela Merkel is above all a supporter of the country's national team, even going so far as to admit to a soft spot for Bastian Schweinsteiger, but at club level her heart beats for Energie Cottbus. A native of the former state of East Germany, the Chancellor has since become an honorary member of the only ex-GDR team currently in the German top flight. "Cottbus have to stay in the first division," she stated upon receiving her own personalised team shirt. "As a new honorary member, I'm crossing my fingers for that to happen!"

On the other side of the Rhine, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is a regular visitor to the Parc des Princes to lend Paris Saint-Germain his support, while in Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is nothing less than President of AC Milan. On a smaller scale, when Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair as Prime Minister of Great Britain, the country replaced a Newcastle United fan with a supporter of humble Scottish outfit Raith Rovers.

As for London club West Ham United, their most famous advocate can be found in the White House of all places. The new President of the USA, Barack Obama, is said to have followed the Hammers ever since a trip to England in 2003.